The fusion may sound unexpected at first: soul, gospel and flamenco music. But upon careful listening, a common element emerges — heartfelt emotion is the core of each. Integrating them, however, requires a special kind of voice, like the one belonging to Spanish singer Pitingo.
On Saturday, Pitingo will bring his passionate fusion to the Fillmore Miami Beach for the concert titled Soulería, a musical extravaganza that mixes a gospel choir, flamenco musicians, flamenco-style versions of R&B and pop songs, and the multimedia effects of a pop concert. The event marks the first time that the popular Spanish singer has brought such a large production to the United States.
“It’s major,” says Pitingo (real name Antonio Manuel Álvarez Vélez) during a recent interview from the offices of Sierralta Entertainment, the Wynwood-based company that is presenting him here. “We’re coming with the whole band. Gospel — from a New Orleans choir — gypsy and Cuban musicians, everything.”
Producer Miguel Sierralta is counting on Miami audiences’ passion for flamenco to bring them to this unusual production.
“I’ve always been a fan of flamenco music, but Pitingo’s fusion does not sound like anything I’ve heard before,” says Sierralta, who was captivated by Pitingo’s sound when he first heard him three years ago. “Not here, not anywhere else. And particularly not the way he does it.”
Pitingo will be promoting Soulería, his second album (of five), which made him known as the performer who blends the music of his gypsy ancestors with the legendary African American singers who thrilled him from the time he was little.
“There are purists who do not want [flamenco] to move forward, but it’s one thing to go ahead with this fusion or coupling with other cultures, because it is necessary for the advancement of the music, and another thing is to lose flamenco’s purity,” says the 34-year-old cantaor (singer) with bronzed skin and salt-and-pepper hair. He shares his nickname, meaning “presumido” (vain), with his grandfather and great-grandfather.
For Pitingo, that musical fusion does not weaken the inherent traditions of flamenco. “That is not lost,” he says. “I know what pure singing is. Flamenco is a way of life, in every sense. It is one’s way of being, of expressing oneself, what we are taught. We say that we are flamenco even in the way we walk.”
Choreographer, dancer, and flamenco academic Juan Carlos Lérida emphasizes that although a fusion may seem new and exotic, there is a tradition of nourishing flamenco with other influences. What Pitingo does is not heresy, Lérida says.
“Soul in flamenco, except for some references in the 1970s clearly inspired by James Brown, appears towards the beginning of the 21st century with Pitingo’s [first album], which begins to exhibit some shades of soul in his way of covering the vocal melismas of flamenco,” says Lérida from Seville, Spain, via email.
The singer was raised in the flamenco tradition. “I come from a fishermen’s town [Ayamonte, in the province of Huelva in Andalusia], the land of fandango, as it is called, and flamenco has always been heard there,” Pitingo says.
Then, when he was 9 nine years old, Pitingo found an Aretha Franklin cassette in his parents’ home. “I still don’t understand where it came from,” says Pitingo. “I’ve tried to remember many times. I think it had been given to an uncle or a cousin of mine, and they had left it there.”
The first track he heard was Respect. And just like that, without knowing any English, or anything about Franklin, Pitingo’s respect for this music was born. “I said, ‘Oh, my God.’ My grandmother, I remember her saying to my mother, ‘What is wrong with this child?’ because I spent all day playing that tape.”
The tape led him to explore blues, gospel and soul, and performers such as Marvin Gaye, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, the Motown stars, Ray Charles, and Roberta Flack and many others.
“But I also kept listening to Manolo Caracol, Camarón, and singing in the tablaos [traditional flamenco cabarets],” he says. “Until a day came when I began to clap my hands in flamenco style, and then I began to sing What a Wonderful World, by Louis Armstrong. So, it has all been very natural.”
From that natural combination of flamenco and soul, he reached Soulería.
“It’s me,” he says.
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